BBC is playing it safe

by John Wyles | 20.02.2017

Theresa May says she is determined to bring the nation together, the better to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of Brexit. She is unlikely to succeed. The triggering of Article 50 will change the climate to sour, both at the negotiating table in Brussels and in the UK between Leavers and quite a few Remainers. The former do not feel secure in their victory, despite the overwhelming media support they continue to enjoy. In the coming months and years, animosity between the two camps will be fuelled on the one hand by press coverage as toxically anti-EU as any seen during the referendum campaign, and on the other by a steady growth in popular support for a second vote on withdrawal.

The owners and editors of the Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and Sun believe they won the referendum for the Leave campaign and that they can build a protective wall around a hard Brexit. The heavy artillery fire in the tabloids provoked by Tony Blair’s “Britons change your minds speech” is proof positive of their steely intent.

Brexiters clearly enjoy a massive advantage in media support. But they are suspicious of the BBC. Hyperactive leavers generate a daily flow of bilious complaints on social media alleging that the BBC is bent on supporting and reviving the Remainers’ cause. This is by no means obvious to those who lost the referendum. Even if one accepts that the BBC’s news coverage is as well balanced as it can be, an overall judgment must also consider the stories and angles it chooses not to cover as well as those that it does. So far, the BBC seems tempted to play safe by putting foundations under Brexit, rather than dealing with risky analysis about the potentially huge social, economic and geopolitical costs of withdrawal.

For example, the documentary “After Brexit: the Battle for Europe” was skillfully constructed around the dystopic account of an EU that is already in a state of disintegration and heading for collapse. Its closing line, uttered by Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, did not hedge its bets. Brexit may already be irrelevant, she said, because “sooner or later Europe may not be there for us to leave”.

Though nothing new, Adler’s theme is that the populist anti-establishmentarians pushing their way up through the cracks in Europe’s liberal democracies are nourished by a variety of discontents. And their distrust and anger are focused on Brussels – a city which to most British media is a backcloth to bureaucratic failure and betrayal of national interests. The fact that most of the EU’s successes and failures can be laid at the doors of national governments rather than faceless bureaucrats receives scant attention.

Adler’s film rounded up the usual populist leaders – including Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National, Beppe Grillo of Italy’s 5 Star Movement, and others from Germany and Hungary – to assert that the time had come to take back control from an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels. Its sins were manifest: a failing currency had been disastrously foisted on unsuspecting peoples, while Europe’s borders had been left unprotected against immigrant hordes, and national identities and loyalties threatened with suppression in the name of the EU.

Missing was any acknowledgment of governments’ responsibility for policy failures. Nor did we have an account of what the Union, however imperfectly, is actually doing to guarantee economic growth and stability, build secure borders and foster local, regional and national identities. This perspective has been largely absent from British media coverage of the EU for more than 40 years. The UK voted for withdrawal on the basis of misleading, insufficient and inadequate information. It will be similarly ill-equipped as it leaps into Brexit.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    Tags: , , Categories: Post-Brexit

    6 Responses to “BBC is playing it safe”

    • Hugo – I think you are being too kind to the BBC.

      Their super-cautious avoidance of any attempt to call out some of the Leave campaign’ lies surely contributed to the result.

      Even now they seem obsessed with quoting Ian Duncan Smith without any kind of sensible riposte. How did this particularly second rate failed politician gain such implausible & undeserved credibility?

      The argument one longs to hear is: If you are so sure the country wants Brexit at any price, what do you have to fear from a second referendum on the actual terms?

      Answer (never given): We fear we would lose.

      • I’m in total agreement with Adrian Webster. This article doesn’t in the slightest live up to the huge failings of the BBC, which ridiculously is actually co-funded by the very people who it is letting down: not just the Remainers, but the entire country !!! It even went unnoticed by the BBC itself, until it was pointed out by a member of the public, that BBC Question Time had been produced by a Britain First (would be) member who had shared respective content on social media. Not that it hadn’t gone unnoticed by everyone else in the country that both the panels and the audiences were totally Leave biased for a very long time. I don’t know anyone who is not disgusted by the BBC. My overall feedback to InFact is that it is generally far too weak in its critical perspective!

      • Fear they would lose? I doubt very much if that is their concern. There are many , like me, who supported remain but now consider that a second referendum would create many more problems than it would solve and believe now that we need to accept the result and move on simply by leaving and striking the best deal we can. My guess is that this group would only augment the initial pro-Leave majority.The Bill to enact the first referendum was passed by a huge Parliamentary majority (494 – 53, if I remember rightly). It was sponsored by a (mostly) pro-Remain government and passed by a majority made up by mostly pro-Remain MPs. All parties, except the SNP voted for it. They calculated that they could thereby settle the issue of remaining once for all. The fact is they lost and are likely to lose once more but, this time at far greater cost to our democracy and even the fabric of society. I believe it was a serious mistake to hold the first referendum; it will be an even bigger mistake to hold a second.

    • The risks of leaving the EU are becoming clearer by the day. A Sloan Business School (part of MIT) study suggests that Brexit could result in a dramatic fall in GDP for the UK. See https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-02-08/brexit-may-cause-u-k-output-to-fall-9-5-mit-study-shows

      And the moves by GM to sell of Opel/ Vauxhall suggests that the car industry might well head for the exit too. GM in Europe has long been losing money, and at least one article I’ve read suggested that GM should almost be paying PSA to take the business off their hands. I’m sure that won’t happen, but it does suggest that pruning the more expensive parts of the current business (the British plants would be in the frame here) might well be a smart move. That’s an awful lot of jobs in the frame.

      The truth is that I only find out about these things by reading the wire services, not the British press. That ought to be seen as a lamentable failure, but I suspect it won’t be.

    • With BBC relying on Government goodwill for ongoing approving licence fees, on its recent track record it seems not to wish to upset May’s rule.

      Understandable, but unforgivable.